The Cat Picks a New Case

Author’s Note: So I said I was celebrating the release of The Consultant and the Cat. I am. This is one possible sequel to that story. I’ve got another alternate one; we’ll see if either makes it to a full novel’s worth of story or not.

This one also features some characters that visitors to the site might recognize, though Fi’s a bit out of character, though I think that’s understandable under the circumstances that led her to Randolph’s office. For more of Fi’s story, start with The Loss of Eight Years.

The Cat Picks a New Case

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“I think you have the wrong impression about the kind of consulting I do. In fact, I think you may even have an incorrect idea of the kind of degree I possess,” Randolph said, shaking his head as he shifted in his chair, trying to keep his side from aching as much as possible. If he admitted it was troubling him, he knew far too many people who would be willing to usher him right back into bed—if the migraine he was certain to have after he got done with this interview didn’t put him there first. “I am not someone who can counsel you about giving up your child for adoption. I am not someone who can prescribe medicine nor can I—”

“I knew I should have had someone come with me,” the woman across from him said, putting a hand to her head. She leaned back in her chair, taking a few breaths to calm herself. “If the only person who seemed to understand even part of it wasn’t out of the country, I would have dragged him back here, made him do the talking… I’m sure I sound hysterical.”

Randolph reached for his pen, about to write down the number of a counselor who could do a far better job of this than he would. “I would not call it that. Hysteria is a term that has a few negative connotations, especially, I believe, for someone of your gender, and it has fallen out of favor in the medical community. What we call hysteria—Forgive me. I almost started on one of my infamous tangents.”

The woman managed a short laugh. “It… that actually made me feel better for some reason.”

“I’ll blame my accent. Some people think the Oxford in it is very soothing.”

“Perhaps a little.”

He smiled, getting ready to tear the paper off the pad for her. “As I was saying, I’m not the sort you need for any kind of consultation in that respect. My skills are… They’re more suited to a different purpose. I am not sure I’m the one you want to help you deal with the loss of your baby—”

“She’s not my baby,” the woman said, and Randolph frowned. He didn’t think he understood any of this. How had he missed the part about this not being her child? She’d sounded very much like the mother a moment ago. “The truth is, I have no legal claim to her whatsoever. That’s part of my problem—not the only one, but one of the bigger ones—but it’s not… Oh, I wish I’d been able to have Darren explain this. He’s got the emotional detachment… He called it like it was from the beginning.”

“He’s the one that’s out of the country?”

“Yeah. I didn’t want to wait because I know these things can’t wait, but every time I try to explain it to someone, they assume the hysterical part and ignore the rest of what I need to say. Even my brother did, but then again, my brother tends to assume I’m incapable of handling anything on my own,” she said, rubbing her forehead. “Sorry. I guess I should have had my translator. I’m still not getting to the point. It’s not like we have time to wait for him to get back.”

“I’m sure a few hours delay would—”

“He’s terrified of flying. He’d have to sail back.”

Randolph grimaced, but before he could summon a response to that one, the door opened, pushed by a large black head, and Katya slinked her way into his office, each of her paws padding against the floor as she crossed to his side. She gave him a look, and he frowned, but she ignored him as she walked over to the other chair.

The woman took one look at the leopard, blinked, and shook her head. “Just when I thought I had a handle on things—if you commit me, will you please make sure that Darren gets notified? I did kind of promise to tell him what happened, so…”

“I assure you, the leopard is real, though I was hoping to keep her out of the office while we talked. This is Katya.”

“Katya.” The leopard purred at the sound of her name, putting her head in the woman’s lap. “You’re a bit too adorable for your own good, too, aren’t you? Damn it.”

Randolph wanted to send the cat for Persephone, hoping another woman’s presence might help, but he didn’t think he’d get the leopard to listen, not now. She thought she belonged right where she was, and he’d never change her mind about that. “You said—”

“I think my husband’s baby was stolen.”

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“Ah, Reynolds, love, thank goodness,” Randolph said, rising from his desk and coming to Persephone’s side, pulling her into the room. She had only meant to find out where the leopard had gotten to—she knew they could not afford another incident with her mother’s neighbors, so Katya needed to be supervised—not get involved in his case, whatever it was. “We have had some trouble getting this matter sorted out.”

“Which is his polite way of saying I’ve been a near incoherent mess,” the woman in the chair said, glancing at the leopard. “I’d stand and shake your hand, but I can’t right now. I’m Fidelity Purcell. You can call me Fi if you want. Just… not Mrs. Burns.”

Persephone frowned. “I thought your name was Purcell.”

“It is. My husband’s was Burns,” the other woman explained. “I am making a huge mess of this… Okay, in short, simple terms—my husband had an affair. He got that girl pregnant. Both he and the mother ended up dying, and I had the baby at the time. Long, long story there. Social services said they’d find one of her relatives to take in the baby, and supposedly they did.”

“I don’t think we’re going to like this supposedly, are we?” Persephone asked, and Randolph nodded, reaching for his chair. He sat back down with a wince.

“Someone impersonated Chloe’s aunt and took the baby. Chloe’s aunt told me she never wanted anything to do with the child, but she doesn’t care what happened to it. The local police don’t seem all that concerned. No one does.”

“No one except you.”

Fidelity looked to Randolph, sighing. “I… I kind of bonded with the baby against my will. I had good reasons for giving her up when I did, and I still mostly believe that was the right decision, but she… I was told I could at least know what her progress was, only when I spoke to the aunt, I found out she never took the baby. I don’t know who has her or why they want her, but I can’t imagine that it was for any kind of… good reason. I’ve seen stuff on television about people selling babies—Richard told me he’d buy me one once as a joke, the bastard—and I suppose she could have gone to a good home, but I don’t know that. All I know is that someone lied and stole her.”

Persephone crossed over to Randolph’s side, knowing they needed to discuss this in private. “What was the name of the officer you spoke to? Do you have a case number with the department? I’m a detective, and I didn’t hear anything about this missing baby.”

Fidelity took in the badge clipped to Persephone’s belt and shook her head, trying to get up from the leopard. “I shouldn’t have come. I… It’s not like I have a legal claim to the child. I don’t. She’s not my blood, I never adopted her, and I was separated from my husband when he died. Not that any of that matters. They all took one look at me and decided I was hysterical. You agree with your colleagues, don’t you?”

“I just look like an ice queen,” Persephone said, feeling defensive, the same way she always did when she felt like she was being judged by her looks. Death warmed over, the white witch, all assumptions that added up to her being cold and unfeeling. “I’m not heartless.”

“You can save your pity. I don’t want that, either.”

“Persephone was not talking about pity. While her department may have officially declined to pursue an investigation or to keep you informed of their efforts in this regard, I am not bound by their restrictions. I make my own decisions about the cases I take—well, when the leopard allows me to, that is. She has her own mind about these things.” Randolph took hold of Persephone’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “You and I shall discuss this ice queen nonsense again later.”

“Randolph, I swear, if you try to—”

“I do enjoy making you melt,” he said, and she knew she’d gone red again. She shook her head, pulling her hand from his. He shrugged, turning back to his client. “My apologies. She is very sensitive to the discussion of her looks, and I rather insist on challenging the myth every chance I get.”

Fidelity shook her head. “I didn’t even… I guess I was too distracted. I take it that’s… natural?”

Persephone nodded. “Recessive genes.”

“Oh. Cat, please, let me up already. I—It wasn’t about the way you look. I didn’t even notice. I just… I don’t want to waste any more time. If you don’t or can’t help me, that’s all I really need to know.”

Randolph let out a breath, looking at the leopard. They both knew what the cat’s actions meant. He didn’t have a choice. He was taking this case. “I’m going to need more information from you.”

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Time to Step Back and End the Confusion

Author’s Note: So… I was expecting a longer story, but I think this might just be done, too.

Time to Step Back and End the Confusion

“I know what I’m going to do. I’ll marry Darren and adopt you, and we’ll be a perfect little family. It’s the solution to everything, don’t you think? Everything will be great. No, it will be wonderful. Let’s just ignore the fact that I don’t love him and that you’re the result of my husband betraying me, and the whole thing is a beautiful, touching idea. It’s the stuff of romance novels and made for television movies. I love it.”

Apparently, so did the baby, because she clapped her hands together after Fi’s speech, sounding like she might be giggling. Fi shook her head. She must look hilarious like this, but it was not funny. None of it was.

She didn’t like being jerked around like this. She’d been lied to and manipulated, and that had to stop. She needed to make sure she wasn’t the one lying this time. She knew what Richard’s lies were, she knew how he’d manipulated her. She knew that she might have let herself be talked into keeping the baby when she shouldn’t have, and she knew that was a weakness she couldn’t afford.

She couldn’t lie—she had wanted a child for so long that she was tempted. She didn’t understand, though. Wasn’t that like… letting go of all that Richard had done? Did that mean that she was forgiving him? If she could adopt the baby without him, why couldn’t she do it with him?

She shook her head. “I am such a mess.”

“I have to agree. When was the last time you showered?”

“Darren, go away.”

He leaned against the door frame, shaking his head. “I should apologize for before. I didn’t—I lectured, I guess, in my way, and it wasn’t my place. You have been through a lot and me doing some of your dishes… Not exactly what you need right now. You need to be able to think and make decisions, and you can’t even breathe with everything that’s going on.”

“When did you get sensitive?”

He shook his head. “Don’t read too much into it. I’m not… I don’t even know why I’m up here because we’re not… We don’t say we’re sorry. We’ve been hurling insults at each other since we were, what, eight?”

“Six, in my case, but yeah.”

“Maybe earlier. About as soon as you could talk.”

“Well, I always said Ransom had poor taste in friends,” she said, almost laughing. She gave the baby a glance, letting out a breath. “I called the social worker. I need to take the baby to her.”

“They found her family?”

“Chloe has an aunt who wants the baby. It’s… It’s for the best. Really.” Fi rubbed her neck and let out a breath. “You may be right. Maybe a part of me did want it, and maybe a part of me is still torn, but she’s not mine. I have—there are good reasons why I shouldn’t do this now. The baby can have a good home, with family, and in time, when things are less… chaotic for me, I can try this for real. I’ll sell the house and get an apartment in the meantime, and I’ll… You know, it’ll be good for me to be single for a change. I didn’t do much on my own before I met Richard and married him, and now I’m free to figure out who I am and what I want again.”

Darren nodded. “You are. That’s important.”

“Will you go with me? To take her back?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you. I… I appreciate it.”

“You know you’re almost family.”


He took a step closer to her, wrapping his arms around her, and she closed her eyes, trying to breathe through it and not cry. She hadn’t wanted this. No, she did, but she didn’t. She was so confused and messed up by the whole thing, and she didn’t know where she was or what she wanted, what she should do. She couldn’t sort out how she felt or if anything was right anymore.

“Remember, you’re not alone. Whatever happens, whatever you decide, you have people to turn to. If it’s Ransom and my sister or me or your parents… You don’t have to do this alone, any of it. I know you want to try that, want to prove you’re independent, but you don’t have to. Not with this. This is one of those times when you need support more than ever. Don’t turn away from it.”

“Is that what you think I’m doing?”

“I don’t know. I can’t tell what’s going on with you.”

“Probably because I don’t even know. I wish I did, but I didn’t. I’m so confused. I didn’t want the baby when Richard told me about her, but I’ve cared for her and… How can I think I want her now when I refused her before? That’s not right. Nothing I’ve done since I found out seems right. I needed to get away and get some space to clear my head, yes, but I didn’t… I didn’t figure anything out, didn’t know what I wanted. Maybe I could have forgiven Richard. Maybe we could have done it together like he wanted—”

“I hope not. He didn’t deserve that. Yes, you’d be a good mother. Yes, you could do it, raise her on your own, but to let him get away with doing that to both of you—”

“I didn’t say that. I don’t… No, I think I would still have divorced him, that I wouldn’t have been able to trust him after what he did, but none of that matters with him gone. What I have to worry about is the people that are still alive. Me, the baby… She’s going to a good home, and I’m going to… going to put myself back together again.”

“Sounds about right.” Darren gave her cheek a quick brush with his thumb. “Don’t forget that you have people who care about you and want to help.”

“I won’t.”

Back: More Protests

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

More Protests

Author’s Note: Fi said no. She does have good reasons for saying no.

More Protests

“What? No! I don’t—why would I want that? Why would I keep around an endless reminder of how Richard betrayed me? Do I really seem like that much of a masochist to you? I’m not. I’m not capable of being that good or noble or self-sacrificing. Even if that social worker called me up today and told me there was nowhere for the baby to go with Chloe’s family, I would not change my mind. I can’t keep her. I’d end up hating her and myself and doing horrible things that I’d regret. She’s not staying. Why would you think that I would do that?”

Darren took a step closer to Fi, putting his hands on her shoulders. “I think that because you have shown already that you can be a good mother, because I know how badly you wanted your chance to be one, and because you’ve been more or less forced into it right now. Someone dropped what you wanted in your lap, and you can’t help being a bit weak to that.”

She shook her head. “I don’t care if I am. This… It’s not right. It’s not my chance. I never wanted to do it on my own, and I am not raising Richard’s child after what he did. I hate him, and I’d live my whole life afraid of taking that out on the baby.”

“I think you’re a good enough person that you’d never do it, and you’d hate even the slightest thought that you might have, so you wouldn’t.”

“That still doesn’t mean I can do this. I just had a marriage fall apart, and technically, I’m a widow, and I need to get my head on straight before I become a mother. I don’t know if I wanted it so much for me or because of Richard, and if it wasn’t for me… I can’t do that to any child. Maybe in a few years if I’m reorganized and settled and over what Richard did enough to trust someone again, and we’re committed to each other and to the adoption, but now? That would be insane, and I’m not that kind of crazy. I’m just not.”

“I never said you were crazy.”

“Even if she’s got no other family, keeping her would be crazy.”

Darren let out a breath. Again, Fi was protesting too much. She’d already started to care about the baby, a lot more than she would admit even to herself. He didn’t know how to make her see that or if he should. This was not his field of expertise, and he’d lost touch with her over the past few years with all the traveling and her husband’s irrational jealousy. They were still family, but that just meant he heard about her through his sister, not directly.

“I am not saying you have to keep her. No one can force you to do that, and Richard was wrong to think that he could get you to do that. I’m just… I think you’re a bit attached already. Who wouldn’t be after all this time you’ve been alone with her? Sure, she’s refused to eat, and she’s got horrible smelling diapers, but she’s cute and doesn’t look much like the bastard, so there’s that.”

“Oh, I see what it is. You’ve gone and fallen for the baby. You want to keep her, so persuading me to do it is your way of—”

“Excuse me, I am not the one who asked me to keep my project within commuting distance of here. Why would you want that if you didn’t want to have support raising the baby? You know I’m a sucker, so of course you’d put it out there, ask me about it, but I’m not the one who’s the problem.”

“I don’t—I was looking for some kind of ridiculous demand to get you to agree to. It’s not like I expect you to drop everything and move here—not as a roommate and sure as hell not as a husband—and you can relax about that. I just… I said something stupid, that’s all.”

“Well, we did kind of fall out of touch thanks to Richard—”

“Who was jealous because he was cheating on me the entire time.”

“—and so we could probably use some time to catch up, and I’m not entirely opposed to helping out or sticking close to you while I work on this project. I just think if you do want to adopt the baby, you allow yourself to admit it and plan accordingly.”

“I know I can only afford a one bedroom apartment on my salary. I wasn’t enough of a feminist to insist on making the same amount of money as him. His income covered the house, and mine gave us luxuries. That was fine with both of us.”

“So you need a roommate.”

“Darren, don’t go thinking you need to volunteer. I already told you. I am not keeping her.”

He had a feeling she was still trying to convince herself of that, but he let it go because he had work to do. “I need to grab my laptop. You should probably call that social worker. You know, since you’re not keeping her.”

She flipped him off and walked away.

Next: Time to Step Back and End the Confusion

Back: A Strange Route to the Truth

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

A Strange Route to the Truth

Author’s Note: So, I think this one will be the Three Word Wednesday story, at least for a bit, but I’m not a once-a-week updater. I like to post daily when possible.

This one is a bit trickier because not only did I get ahead of where I was writing and had to post several parts, the one I posted last week wasn’t the beginning. Last week was “A Visitor with Good and Bad Timing,” but the story starts with “The Loss of Eight Years.” There’s quite a few pieces in between them and this one, so I’d recommend starting at the beginning and going through them all, but I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary, either.

The three words for today: edgy, iconic, and lithe.

A Strange Route to the Truth

“You should change if you’re going to do that.”

Darren made a funny picture, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the bottom of his dress shirt soaked in dishwater, making progress in ridding the mess that Richard had left in the sink. He didn’t belong there, not in his suit, doing dishes, but for some reason he was, and she could only stare when she first returned to the downstairs and realized where he was, busy defying the iconic role of the man of the house.

Not that this was his house or that she’d ever been hung up on traditional roles, but still, he shouldn’t be doing her dishes.

“I’m not wearing any of Richard’s clothes, thank you, and my suitcase is full of stuff just like this, so I don’t have anything to change into. I’ll be fine. The suit’s not a favorite or anything.”

Fi nodded, unable to stop staring. She’d hit the Twilight Zone when Richard told her about the baby, but Darren just had to go pushing that limit further, didn’t he? “I wouldn’t suggest that you try and fit in anything of Richard’s. You’re more… lithe than he ever was.”

“Lithe? Isn’t that term generally applied to women and not men? Shouldn’t it be svelte? Or are you making judgments about my current activity and what that says about my masculinity?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure. Doing the dishes makes you gay. Come on, Darren. I’m not that ignorant, and I’m not stereotyping you. I think the words mean the same thing, so why are you getting all technical about it? Is this something to do with your fine print clauses?”

“One has to be very careful what one says when drafting legal documents, yes,” he said, rinsing off a plate and putting it in the strainer. “I can be overly precise at times. Sorry. Bad habit of mine.”

“And the dishes?”

“You need help. I’m helping. I don’t do diapers, but I can do dishes. Some of them were even mine, so that made the most sense.”


“I do the dishes at home. I do them at my sister’s house. At my parents’ place. This is not the end of the world. The sky is not falling, Chicken Little, and you are not in the Twilight Zone.”

“I hate you.”

He laughed. “I knew it. You did think you were in the Twilight Zone. You are tragically predictable, Fi. It’s way too easy.”

“I see. That’s the real reason you did the dishes, isn’t it?”

He grinned. “Always with the ulterior motives. You know me.”

She did, and she could only shake her head as he finished up, draining the sink. He wiped his hands on a towel and leaned against the counter, just waiting. She didn’t know what he expected this time, but she could see herself asking a few favors of him as long as he was in town. She didn’t know that she should, but they were almost family, so it wouldn’t be like asking some random stranger or putting a burden on one of her friends. She didn’t know what to do at this point.

“What is that look for?” Darren asked, and she started to explain, but his phone rang, interrupting them. He held up a hand as he dug it out of his pocket. “Hey, Greg. No, I’m not—wait, what? You have got to be kidding me. I worked on that deal for almost two years, and they went and threw it away? I don’t know I—Wait, what? It’s the location that’s the issue? Okay, okay, give me some time to look into alternatives. No, you know I can salvage it, but you have to give me a bit of time to find the right place. Just do me a favor and fire whoever let that one slip through our fingers.”

He hung up, swearing as he did, and Fi gave him a look. He put his phone away and sighed. “Sorry. I didn’t—it’s just a lot of work got ruined because some idiot screwed up the permits, and we lost a location, so I’m going to have to fix it. Can I borrow the internet here for a bit?”

She shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Okay, what do I have to do to get you to agree? I’ll pay for the food if we order in.”

She didn’t know that she wanted to settle for a meal. She didn’t know what to do. His phone call had shifted the whole room, and now even the baby was edgy, since she was reacting to Fi. The idea of him taking off again right away was not easy for her to accept, not when he was just about the only ally she had, and she couldn’t believe she was thinking this way. She’d never needed Darren in the past, and now was a bad time to start.


She forced herself to swallow, trying to find the right words for the thoughts swirling around her head and confusing the hell out of her. “What if I came up with something crazy like… demanding that your location be within commuting distance?”

He studied her. “Well, that might be possible, but I think I’d have to know what you’re really expecting of me. Why do you want me to stay?”

“I told you why before.”

He shook his head. “No. That is not a good enough reason to push for something here. I can’t convince them to change their mind about where they want to build just because you need me to help you move.”

She looked down at the baby and back up at him. He let out a breath. “Oh, Fi. I should have known you were protesting too much. You want to keep her, don’t you?”

Next: More Protests

Back: How Nice Is Too Nice?

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

How Nice Is Too Nice?

Author’s Note: So some more of the explanation needed to come in this one. The whole thing just sort of followed after the initial question.

How Nice Is Too Nice?

Darren shifted the baby in his arms, hoping Fi had gotten some sleep on that couch. He hadn’t managed much between the baby and the bed—he knew why she’d avoided it. One side smelled like her, the other like Richard’s obnoxious cologne, and while Darren could almost get used to having her scent nearby, the idea of what a married couple had done in that bed kept him from getting too comfortable, even when he was on top of the sheets. He should never have traded her for the couch. Still, Fi needed the rest more than he did.

She was only now coming around after all, and she’d always been more of a morning person, someone who faced the day head on and never seemed to sleep in. This wasn’t like her. He sat down across from the couch, hoping they still had a while before the crying resumed.

“So I feel a bit foolish asking this now, but what’s her name?”

Fi put a hand to her head. “She doesn’t have one.”


“I thought Richard just didn’t bother to tell me, but when I talked to the social worker, I was told that all the hospital had—even on the birth certificate—was ‘Baby Girl Burns.’ Richard’s name is on there as the father, and the mother’s name is there, but either they hadn’t decided or that bastard really thought I was going to forgive him and wanted us to pick it out together, but they didn’t give her a name. I just keep calling her ‘Girlie.’”

“No name.”

Fi glared at him. “Don’t give me that. I am not getting attached to that child. I refuse to do that. It’s… I’m not that masochistic, okay? Maybe if I’d had an affair, too, or needed to make up something to Richard I might feel differently, but I didn’t… I was the one that put up with treatments and tracking cycles and maximizing the possibility—I was the damn incubator, and when he couldn’t get me to work, he found another, so I am done. Besides, as messed up as Chloe supposedly was—I don’t know that she was; that’s just what he told me—she’s got to have family somewhere that would love to have their grandchild or niece or whatever relation she might be to them in their lives.”

Darren grimaced. “Fi, I never said—I just… You could do better than ‘Girlie,’ that’s all.”

She sighed, leaning her head back against the couch. “I don’t want to. I feel like such an idiot for letting Richard talk me into watching her in the first place, but then if I hadn’t agreed, the baby would be dead, too, so I can’t blame myself too much for that. Then I let the social worker’s comments get to me and volunteered to take care of her until they had someone else because I don’t have a bunch of extra kids but do have everything a baby needs here. I don’t understand. Since when did I become a doormat? Do I have walk all over me written on my face? Or my back?”

“No, but you’re a good person, and that’s part of your problem.”

“Nice guys—or girls, I guess—finish last?”

“Something like that.”

She closed her eyes. “When do you have to be at your next merger or whatever it might be? You should probably get some real sleep—”

“Now who’s got an ulterior motive?”

She grimaced. “I… I have to sell the house. I can’t afford the mortgage on my salary, and I need to start packing my stuff and I need to get rid of everything Richard had, and since I’ve been taking care of the baby, I haven’t gotten anything done.”

“You want help?”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“You can let me volunteer, though.”

She opened her eyes, biting her lip. “I shouldn’t. It’s just that the idea of asking Ransom for help with this…”

“You would never have a life again, I know,” Darren said, reaching for the bottle when he saw the baby’s eyes open. He let a bit dribble into the girl’s mouth, and she didn’t cry—yet. “I am surprised that Richard ever managed to get close to you with the way Ransom always hovered around. He didn’t like the idea of you growing up, that’s for sure.”

“Well, you know, with Mom and Dad working all the time just to make ends meet, he was more of a parent to me than either of them. He just… never learned to stop filling that role and let me breathe. I know I hurt him when I told him to back off, and things were never the same after that, but I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Moving across the country and marrying some guy he’d never met was what hurt, not being told to back off.”

“The disaster my marriage became is going to convince him that he was right. I won’t be able to get rid of him this time. He’ll have me moved in with him before I get a word in edgewise, and I don’t want to be the pathetic aunt who can’t take care of herself. I’m stronger than this.”

Darren nodded. “Agreed, but if you try and keep all of it from him forever, you won’t ever win that battle. I’m all for you handling it on your own, but only if you turn around and tell him everything after you’ve settled. He needs to see that you’ve overcome it. That’s the proof he needs that you can take care of yourself. It won’t be easy for him to accept even then, but if you let him find out from someone else—don’t look at me like that; I never said I’d tell him—he’ll see that as something it isn’t.”

She smiled. “He’s been interfering in your life, hasn’t he?”

“You know your brother. He’s never liked the amount of traveling I do, especially since I’m afraid of flying. He thinks I should settle somewhere, take a different position with the company, have a stable relationship for a change…”

“If you’re happy with the way your life is, what business is it of his?”

“I just keep telling myself it’s because my sister drew the line at four kids. He wants another, but she’s done, and so he extends that instinct to the rest of us, whether we want it or not.”

She laughed. “Yeah, that sounds about right. Why haven’t you sabotaged your sister’s birth control yet, then?”

“Kind of hard when she got her tubes tied.”


“Sorry. I forgot—they wouldn’t have discussed that with you, not with all the trouble you had getting pregnant and then not being able to keep the babies when you did… I shouldn’t have brought it up at all. That’s just… insult to injury.”

Fi shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I’m… I’d basically come to terms with never carrying a baby of my own before this. I just wish that deciding I was and telling Richard that I thought we should adopt hadn’t meant he’d do this to me. I’d finally understood that it wouldn’t matter if the child wasn’t ‘mine.’ I could still love one that didn’t come from me, and it took a lot to accept that, but he turned it around and twisted it…”

“You are so much better off without him. And so is this little girl.”


“I’m sorry. I won’t lie. I hated him, and he had no business being a father. He wasn’t even mature enough to be married to you.” He grimaced. “Um… speaking of immaturity… Someone needs a diaper change, and I’m thinking you should do it.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nice.”

“Hey, you know me. I’ve always pawned off the diaper changes. Uncle Darren does everything but diapers and baths. I’ll feed them, I’ll be a jungle gym, I’ll walk the floor with them at night, but I will not change any diapers.”

“If not for the fact that it would be cruel to her, I’d make you keep her until you caved.”

“Yes, but you’re too nice for that.”

“Story of my life,” Fi muttered, lifting the baby out of his arms. “Gotta stop being so nice.”

“No, you don’t. It’s what makes you who you are.”

Next: A Strange Route to the Truth

Back: Instincts

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years


Author’s Note: So I almost opened the story with this scene. I guess because I liked the interaction in it. Well, that and I wrote it to do a prompt and then didn’t post it. Oops?


“I’m thinking… maternal instinct.”

“Not funny, Darren.” Fi glared at him, shaking her head as she leaned back in her chair, cursing under her breath. She shouldn’t. Small ears would hear, and they didn’t need that on top of everything else. The whole situation was messed up, and she didn’t want to make it worse. She could do so much damage. She knew that. It would be all too easy for her to ruin yet another life. She let out a breath.

“I know you’re tired, and I know that the circumstances aren’t ideal, but you should be proud of what you managed there. Not everyone can quiet a baby like that. It takes skill.”

“Or duct tape.”

Darren shook his head. “Don’t say that. You know you don’t mean it. That’s just a lot of stress talking.”

“I know. I feel like such a monster half the time.” She closed her eyes, trying to will away the memories, but they wanted to come, unbidden, and overwhelm her. “I know it’s not her fault. I’m trying to be good, not allowing myself to take it out on her, but she shouldn’t be here. How do I get stuck with this? I left. When I found out what he did, I walked away. This isn’t my responsibility.”

“You know what you need? A break.” Darren rose, crossing over to take the baby from her. “Go upstairs, get some sleep, and in the morning, you’ll feel better.”

“You’re supposed to be borrowing my couch so you can get back on the road in the morning, remember?”

“I can spare a few hours. I have to admit, things would be a lot easier if I wasn’t terrified of flying,” he said, rocking the infant in his arms. Fi almost smiled at the sight, but then she’d known for a long time that Darren was good with kids. She’d seen him with their nieces and nephews, and they all loved him. Then again, it was easy to be loved when you traveled so much and always brought toys and other gifts on the rare occasions when you did show up. “Fidelity, I mean it. If you don’t go get some rest, I will pull rank on you and call in the big guns.”

“You are not calling my brother.”

Darren froze. “You didn’t tell them about this? Are you insane?”

“I was never supposed to get stuck with the baby that my husband had with another woman, okay? I was going to tell them that I was filing for divorce, but then Richard died, and so there was no point in that. They know he’s dead. That’s all they need to know.”

“It is not. I am holding a child that—”

“As soon as someone locates her relatives, she’ll go to her family. Her real family. Not me, not the woman he betrayed because I couldn’t give him one of… those things.” Fi pointed to the baby and shook her head. “Bastard. Damn it. I don’t want to do this. I’ve been okay so far, and I will continue to be okay. I am going to take you up on your offer and get some sleep, and maybe by morning they’ll call and say that they found her family. I’ll give her to them and no more baby that refuses to eat from a bottle, no more feeling guilty because I resent her, no more anything…”

“You are tired. Go get some sleep,” Darren told her, shifting the baby to his other arm so that he could push her toward the stairs. “Can I say it now? I know it’s speaking ill of the dead, but you know I never liked Richard—”

“I know, but you are not my brother, not even my brother-in-law, so you are in no place to lecture.”

“I didn’t say I was going to lecture you. I don’t really lecture, do I?”

“You do.”

“Then let’s skip it. You just get some rest, okay?”

She nodded, putting a hand to the bannister as she started up the stairs. “I’ll show you where Richard set up her nursery. If you need anything that’s not down by the couch, it’ll be in there. I don’t want to go in there again, but if you need to know where anything is—”

“I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. Sleep. Now.”

She smiled. “I will try. Thank you, Darren, for all of this. It’s not your responsibility—”

“We’re almost family. It’s fine.”

“Just because your sister married my brother does not make you obligated to take care of my husband’s kid.”

He rolled his eyes. “You left out that I’m your brother’s best friend and have been for years. There’s that, too. Now, do I have to push you into the bedroom or are you going to go quietly?”

“Maybe. It’s—This isn’t easy, not after what he did or having him die like that… I hate my own bed thanks to him.”

“You want the couch? We can switch.”

“Actually… Yes, I do.”

Next: How Nice Is Too Nice?

Back: The Clarity of Being on the Outside

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

The Clarity of Being on the Outside

Author’s Note: So this is actually a later addition. I stuck it in after “A Visitor with Good and Bad Timing” and a scene that I considered opening the story with, but it helps bridge the gap there nicely, I think. Plus, it’s a look into Darren’s head, always important.

The Clarity of Being on the Outside

“I can take the baby back now.”

Darren shook his head, thinking Fi needed a much longer break than she’d ever admit, and the baby wasn’t crying, so she could stay where she was. Now, if that diaper got stinky, he’d give her back in an instant, but that was different. “I’m fine. You don’t need to worry that I don’t know what to do. I’ve got her. She’s good.”

Fi let out a breath. “That’s not what I—you don’t have to keep her. I’m fine.”

“I know.”

“I didn’t mean to cry on you.”

He nodded. He knew that. He’d never seen Fi cry, not in any of the years he’d known her, and he didn’t like what he had seen, either. She wasn’t the sort that showed her emotions to much of anyone, never had been, though her big brother had always managed to get the truth out of her in the end, but even when Darren had seen her after one of the miscarriages, she’d been so collected he’d figured she was in shock. Either that, or she was just too damn stubborn to break down in front of him.

She’d never liked him that much, so he couldn’t blame her for that.

“I think you’re allowed more than a few tears after what you’ve been through.”

She shook her head. “I’m not sad. I’m not. I should feel something for Richard after eight years, but he… I can’t summon any kind of grief for him. I’m just so angry. If he wasn’t dead, I’d be this close to killing him myself. I could strangle him with my bare hands that’s how mad he made me. He didn’t even get it. He didn’t understand. Didn’t see what he did as wrong. I don’t know where the man I married went, but when I found out about this, he was not in the same room with me.”

Darren snorted. The bastard had been there. She’d just loved the idiot too much to see what he was before now. Richard was a jerk, had been from day one, but in the beginning, at least, he’d pretended to be good to her. He’d stopped along the way, and maybe if they hadn’t had that complication of trying for kids, Fi might have seen it sooner. Then again, Darren had to figure it was a lot easier to see on the outside.

“Well, the kid thing can make it or break it with a lot of marriages. It puts a strain on both of you.”

“When did he become so obsessed with having one of his blood that he had to knock someone else up to get it?”

“I have no idea. The guy was never a friend of mine, and it’s not like he’d confide in me.”

“That was rhetorical.”

He shrugged. He didn’t care so much about what she expected an answer to or not. At least by saying something he kept the conversation going, kept her from clamming up on him and going back to pretending that she was okay when she wasn’t. She’d just put her husband in the ground and was stuck taking care of that same husband’s baby with another woman. No one would be okay with that.

He looked down at the baby. She was cute, and thankfully, she didn’t look anything like Richard. That had to help at least a little.

The baby’s eyes opened, and she must have realized that she didn’t know him because she started wailing like some horrible banshee. He stood, trying to rock her back to sleep, using every trick he’d learned with his sister’s kids, but the screeching went on.

Fi rose, picked up the bottle, and let it drip on her finger. He frowned, but she reached over to let the baby have her finger, sucking the formula off. She sighed. “That kid is starving, but she hates formula. This is the only way I know to get her to eat, and it never lasts.”

“Gotta be better than nothing. Maybe she just needs time. She might not realize that her mother’s not coming back.”

“Well, I’m not so sure she knows the difference between mom and anyone with… well, breasts, but no, she hasn’t grasped that yet. I think she thinks I’m punishing her because I’m not giving her what she wants and needs,” Fi said, taking the baby from him and trying to give her the bottle. The baby turned her head away. “I’m this close to taking her in to get an IV or something. She can’t keep doing this. It’s going to make her sick if it doesn’t kill her.”

Darren nodded. “Yeah, but what you did there, that was pretty good. Got her quiet right away.”

“It doesn’t last.”

“You still can’t take a compliment, can you?”

“If you’re hungry, there should still be food in the kitchen. Go help yourself.”

“Why do you always assume I have another motive?”

“Because I know you, and you always do. Go eat. I’ll keep at this for a while.”

Next: Instincts

Back: A Visitor with Good and Bad Timing

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

Contemplating Her Goodbye

Author’s Note: Funerals tend to make a person introspective, and Fi’s not immune to that. This is right before “A Visitor with Good and Bad Timing.

Contemplating Her Goodbye

Fi and the baby were the last ones left at the side of the grave, though she knew that her reasons for being there weren’t good. She had to see all of the dirt filled in, had to watch as he disappeared into the earth, never to come back and betray her again. She didn’t understand. How had she missed what he became? How had she failed to realize how much he’d changed, how twisted he’d become in his desire to have that child? She’d thought she wanted it more than he did, so why had he been the one to go out and get someone else pregnant?

She looked down at the baby. “I don’t think I will ever forgive your father. I don’t know how to, not after what he did.”

The child did not respond. That was something of a relief, since most of the time, all it did was cry. She was ready to go out of her mind between that and the funeral arrangements. She hadn’t cared what Richard got so long as it meant that she was done dealing with him for good, and her attitude kept raising eyebrows as she went through the motions. She didn’t know how to get back any kind of… feeling for him. She didn’t have any tears, wasn’t grieving him.

He’d done something that cut way too deep.

Could she have forgiven him having an affair if he’d not gotten the other woman pregnant? She didn’t know. She couldn’t sort out the what ifs, and she didn’t have the energy to try. She couldn’t figure out how to get any sleep between her thoughts and the baby’s refusal to eat. Nothing that she did for the child seemed to help. She’d bought every single brand of formula that she could find, every different blend, and the girl would not drink it.

The only way she’d gotten any food lately was when Fi stuck her finger in the formula and let the baby suck on it or when she dribbled it into her mouth, but the baby tried to avoid that as much as possible.

She was starting to think she’d have to take it to the hospital. When she got home, she was calling that social services person again, demanding to know what the state of the girl’s family was and when they were coming for her. She didn’t have much of a choice. She couldn’t care for a baby that wasn’t hers and didn’t want to eat.

She supposed the child knew how much she resented her—she tried, honestly she did, not to hate the girl, but it wasn’t easy. Fi wasn’t that good of a person. She saw the baby and thought of her husband doing the things he’d done to her to someone else—images she didn’t need, images that she didn’t want.

When he’d told Fi about the baby, she’d already been born. That meant that the affair had gone on without her noticing—and she hated herself for that—but also that he’d been acting like he’d done no wrong. He’d made love to her, too, all the while he was with someone else, kept up the pretense that he loved her and that made it all the worse. If he’d been cold and distant, if the affair had been obvious, then she might feel differently. Instead, he’d acted the same as always. He’d still talked about them having children, about whether they should try a new drug or if they should adopt. Maybe he’d been planning on knocking up his mistress and bringing that child home all along. Fi didn’t know.

She just knew that at the moment, she hated him with every fiber of her being. She couldn’t find a part of her that still loved him, though after eight years, that had to be buried in her somewhere. Maybe in a few days or week, she’d feel it, and then she’d grieve like she should.

If she was able to give the baby to her family, if she had a chance to sleep, that would help. All she wanted now was to be alone—truly alone—so that she could start to sort out how she felt and what the hell she was going to do with her life now.

Her husband was dead. She’d been about to divorce him, and she didn’t miss him, but she had to think about the house, about where she’d live—she wasn’t sure she could afford the mortgage on her salary alone.

So many things to deal with. She had better start home, then.

Next: A Visitor with Good and Bad Timing

Back: Alone but Not Alone

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

Alone but Not Alone

Author’s Note: Fi’s reaction to the news was hard to figure. She’s probably still in shock, a bit…

Alone but Not Alone

Richard was dead. Richard the cheating, selfish bastard who still thought she’d forgive him and make a family with him and the daughter he’d had with another woman, was dead. That woman was also dead. They’d both died in the car crash, and now Fi was alone.


She looked down at the baby. “He didn’t tell me your name. I don’t know if anyone knows. I suppose it must be on your birth certificate somewhere, shouldn’t it? I guess I can have them look it up for me sometime. Not that it matters. I’m sure they’ll take you away soon enough. Richard might have thought you could be, but you’re not mine.”

She sighed. She shouldn’t have this baby, she should never have agreed to Richard’s idea, but then if she hadn’t… the girl would be dead, too. Fi shook her head. This wasn’t right. She shouldn’t be here, the baby shouldn’t be here, and if not for Richard…

She wasn’t even upset that he was dead. She should feel something, she supposed, but she didn’t. She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t sad. She was numb. Maybe she was still in shock. She’d figured it couldn’t be worse than when she’d found out about the affair, but it was. She was alone, with Richard’s daughter, and he was dead. The girl’s mother was dead.

She picked up the bottle, trying to give it to the child again. She had to give it some kind of name, if only for her own sanity, but she didn’t want to call it by some term of endearment. She wasn’t going to get attached. That wasn’t allowed. She’d told the officers that notified her of her husband’s death about the baby, and they said they’d get someone—social services, she assumed—to look for Chloe’s relatives. They’d take the baby. Fi had no claim to her, and she didn’t want one.

“Why couldn’t your father have been less of a jerk?”

The baby didn’t answer, didn’t do anything but turn away from the bottle. Fi let out a breath. “Okay, in all fairness, I don’t know how old this is, or for sure when the last time you ate was, but you need to have some. It’s been more than four hours, at least, since I’ve started watching you, so eat already.”

Nothing. Fi bit her lip. “Look, kid, if you’re one of those fussy ones who won’t do it without Mommy, you’re in big trouble. Mommy’s gone, and she’s not coming back. Either you start liking formula, or you’re going to starve.”

That would be just perfect, wouldn’t it?

Fi knew she couldn’t let that happen. If social services didn’t take the kid off her hands by tomorrow, she’d get some kind of expert to get the girl eating. Maybe she knew enough of what was going on to have no appetite. Fi certainly didn’t.

“All right, Girlie. We’re going to check your diaper and then try putting you back down in your crib. Maybe you’ll stay asleep for more than two hours this time. And maybe pigs will fly, but that’s the sort of wishful thinking I’m reduced to.”

The baby’s eyes closed, and Fi assumed that was acquiescence, so she carried her up the stairs and into the nursery. She did a quick check of the baby’s diaper and tried not to look at the room too much. All of this had been put together six years ago, before her first miscarriage, and she had been avoiding it off and on ever since. Sometimes she was hopeful, thinking she’d get that chance eventually, and others she didn’t think it would ever come. Richard, bastard that he was, never wanted to take down any of the decorations or any of these things they didn’t need.

“There you go,” she said, putting the baby down in the crib. She turned on the carousel with a wince. She’d bought that for her baby, damn it. That was her favorite melody, and it was one she’d sung to the ones she’d lost. This was so wrong. She took a deep breath. She would not take Richard’s actions or her own issues out on the baby. She wouldn’t. “Goodnight.”

The screaming began then, and she shook her head. “Don’t do this. I am not carrying you around all night. I mean it. Don’t give me another reason to hate you, kid.”

She put a hand to her head. She didn’t want to hate the baby. The kid had no choice, but damn it, she didn’t know how to do this, how not to resent the child for everything it wasn’t and everything its father had destroyed.

She forced herself to walk away from the crib. It wouldn’t hurt the baby to cry for a bit, and she needed a break before she did something she’d regret.

Next: Contemplating Her Goodbye

Back: All the Complications Enter at Once

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

All the Complications Enter at Once

Author’s Note: This continues toward where Fi was in “A Visitor with Good and Bad Timing,” slipping in a moment with Darren before then, and completes how she ended up in the company that she was in during that part.

All the Complications Enter at Once

Fi put the baby down in her crib, shaking her head at her stupidity. She should have seen this for what it was. She should have known that Richard would trick her into this. That was what the phone call was—an excuse to get her to stay and play Mommy while he left for a so-called emergency. She was supposed to get attached to the baby, and when she did, she wouldn’t want to let go. She was supposed to take him back and forget everything.

“You’d be the sort of thing that could almost make a person forget,” Fi told the girl, looking down at her. “You’d tempt anyone because you’re such a sweetheart. I just… can’t do it.”

She heard the phone ring, and she cursed, figuring that it was Richard checking in to see how addicted she was to the baby. If he thought she’d gotten hooked, then he’d come back. If not, he’d create some excuse why it was going to take longer. She was going to tell him to get his ass back home because his plan was not working. She wouldn’t fall for this.

She picked up the handset and hit the talk button, putting it to her ear. “What?”

“I see the trouble I was having getting a hold of anyone must be bad. I should just hang up now, right? That would be better than continuing this when you’re in one of those moods.”

She laughed. “Very funny, Darren. Like my moods have ever scared you off.”

“True. I am the proverbial bad penny. Always turning up when you don’t need me.”

She grimaced. She could use a friend, and explaining the situation to him would be easier than facing her older, extremely overprotective brother. If Ransom had any idea what Richard had done, she’d be trying to hire him a defense attorney. No, she had to keep that from him for a while yet. Maybe Darren could help her find a way to tell him.

“No, it’s a good time.”

“You sure? I was thinking about asking if your jerk husband can stomach me borrowing a couch for a night. I’ll be driving somewhat through the area, and I’d call on our old arrangement, but I know how he feels about that.”

“Yeah. I think I know why he’s so jealous.”

“Because I’m a good-looking single man who supposedly has no business being friends with a married woman even if our relationship is more complicated than that?”

She snorted. “I have known you since you were six, and good-looking was never a word anyone would apply to you. Your sister got all the looks in your family, and you know it.”

“You know, we could call a truce on the whole insult thing. I know it was to be expected when I was just your brother’s annoying friend, but we’re adults now. Shouldn’t we have outgrown that?”

“Nah. Too much fun.”

He laughed. “Also true. So, if I buy you dinner, I can borrow a couch next week? Should be Thursday, but we’ll see how long these meetings take. Mergers are so much fun.”

“You’re so high maintenance. I can’t believe they haven’t fired you yet.”

“I’m good at what I do.”

She rolled her eyes. The only one with a bigger ego than Darren most days was Richard. She heard someone pounding on the door and shook her head. That had better not be Darren. He’d said next week. Not today. “Darren, so help me, if you are on the other side of that door—”

She opened it up and stared at the two men in uniform on the other side. She lifted up the phone. “I’ll call you back.”

“Mrs. Burns?”

“Purcell. I always used my maiden name. Never took Richard’s. What is this? Is he trying to claim that I’m trespassing now?”

“Um, no, ma’am. We… That is, we have some bad news. There was an accident.”

Next: Alone but Not Alone

Back: Truce and Manipulation

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years